Louis Arthur Coolidge.

An old-fashioned senator: Orville H. Platt, of Connecticut; the story of a life unselfishly devoted to the public service online

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Old - Fashioned Senator

Orville H. Piatt

Of Connecticut

The Story of a Life Unselfishly Devoted to the

Public Service


Louis A. Coolidge


G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York and London

Ubc 1Rnicherbocl?er press




Copyright, iqio


Louis A. Coolidgb

"Cbe *n(clierboclter pw8B, t*ew Bork


Swiftly the politic goes: is it dark? — he

borrows a lantern ;
Slowly the statesman and sure, guiding

his steps by the stars.




AMONG all the public men whom the writer of this
sketch has known in the course of an experience
in Washington embracing twenty years, Senator Piatt
seems to have approached most nearly the perfect
measure of disinterested service. That he should have
been above any temptation to profit materially from
his official place implies no special virtue, for that is
fortunately a common attribute of Senators of the
United States; but he possessed the rarer quality of
disregard for contemporary applause or posthumous
fame. He was ready to do each day's pressing duty
conscientiously and unselfishly without regard to its
effect upon his political fortune or personal prestige,
and having the faculty of eft'ective co-operation in
an exceptional degree, he held the unbounded con-
fidence of his associates. The impression created by
watching his public conduct from year to year has been
strengthened since this book was undertaken by a study
of his private life from boyhood and by a perusal of the
fragmentary correspondence which, through no design
of his, survives him. His record from youth to age
was one of uncalculating consistency — of harmonious
intellectual and spiritual development.

In the decision of vital questions of legislation he
was for years an important and frequently a control-
ling factor. During an eventful time he exercised a
more pervasive influence than any other Senator, yet

vi Introduction

so unobtrusively that it was almost the close of his
career before his work received adequate recognition
except from those who could appraise it near at hand.
The Piatt Amendment first brought him the distinction
he deserved, but that document was only the triumphant
application of principles which he had long maintained.
His place in American history will be larger as the years
go by.

In trying to delineate a character unusual in public
life, it has been found expedient to review briefly the
significant legislation of a quarter of a century to
the shaping of which Senator Piatt's practical wis-
dom, unfailing courage, and acknowledged loftiness of
purpose were indispensable.

Li, a., k^,

Boston, February 22, 1910.



I. JUDEA . •. . . . . I

Birth and Ancestry — The Litchfield Hills —
Early Days in Judea — Abolition and Re-
ligious Dissent — The Underground Rail-
road — Boyhood on the Farm.

II. Teacher and Pupil . . . .13

The "Master of the Gunnery"— A Pupil's
Tribute — School Days — Ostracism for
Anti-Slavery Views — Teaching School in
Judea — A Year at Towanda — Admission
to the Bar — Marriage — Removal to
Meriden — A Lover of the Woods — Judea
Revisited — The Adirondacks.

III. Meriden 27

Meriden and the First Church— Twenty-
eight Years a Practising Lawyer — A Po-
litical Organizer — Judge of Probate —
Chairman of American and Republican
State Committees— Secretary of State—
A Member of the General Assembly-
Speaker of the House— " Picture Piatt"
—State's Attorney— The Bible Class-
Masonry — The Metabetchouan Fishing
and Game Club— Interest in Business
Development— Financial Reverses.

IV. The Midnight Caucus ... 38

A Skilfully Conducted Canvass— The Mid-
night Caucus— Election to the Senate
— Newspaper Criticism— Reception at


viii Contents


V. A Looker-on in the Senate . . 54

First Experiences at Washington — The
Forty-sixth Congress — Eulogy of Rush

VI. Development of a Lawmaker . . 61

Growth in the Senate — Personal Charac-

VII. Savior of the Patent System . 70

Chairman of the Patents Committee — Pre-
serving the Patent System — Speech of
March 24, 1884 — Friend of the American

VIII. The Work for International Copy-
right, 1884-1891 .... 83

International Copyright — A Legislative
Triumph — Law of 1891 — Subsequent

IX. Protector of the Indian . . 114

The Red Man's Most Practical and Useful
Friend — Fourteen Years with the Com-
mittee on Indian Affairs — Prevents Mis-
chievous Legislation.

X. New States in the West . . . 134

Chairman of Committee on Territories —
Instrumental in Admitting Six New
States — In Close Touch with the West.

XL The Foreign-Born American . . 147

Restriction of Immigration — Advocate of
Reasonable Legislation — His Opinion of
the Adopted Citizen.

XII. Fair Play towards China . 153

Chinese Exclusion — Opposes Act of 1882 —
Unsuccessful Attempt to Amend Geary
Act — Legislation of 1888 — Prevents Dras-
tic Legislation in 1902 and 1904.









Sound Finance

First Essays in Finance— Refunding Bill of
1 88 1— Speech of February 17th— Proposes
Abolition of Tax on Bank Circulation.

The Free-Silver Delusion . • i75

A Genuine Bimetallist— Opposes Coin Cer-
tificates in 1888— The Sherman Law of
1890— Opponent of Free Silver — Objects
to Hasty Repeal — Retaliation against
Great Britain.

Paper Money ... .189

Continued Agitation for Free Silver— Op-
poses Fictitious "Seigniorage" in 1895—
Criticism of the Greenbacks— For Sound
Money in 1896

Real Currency Reform . . -199

The Finance Committee— Helps to Frame
Law of 1900— Letter to Timothy D wight
—Consideration of Additional Measures of
Relief— Opposed to Asset Currency— The
Aldrich Bill— Conference at Warwick— A
Central Bank.

XVII. A Staunch Protectionist . . 212

The Cleveland Message of 1887— Attack
upon the Administration Policy— A Com.-
prehensive Plea for Protection— Defender
of American Industries— Opposition to ■
the Mills Bill— Contrast between Labor
and Industry North and South— The Duty
on Tin Plate— The Tariff not Responsible
for the Trusts.

XVIII. The Fateful Fifty-first Congress 227

McKinley Tariff and the Lodge Election
Bill_Democratic Obstruction in the Sen-
ate—An Unswerving Supporter of the
Party Programme— Argues for Enactment
of Both Bills— The Quay Resolution-
Enactment of the Tariff Bill— The Elec-

X Contents


tion Bill Postponed — Lukewarm towards
Blaine's Reciprocity Proposal — Unchanged
by Republican Defeat.

XIX. The Wilson-Gorman Bill . .241

An Aid to the Finance Committee — Mr.
North's Experience — Active in Debate —
Keen Analysis of the Democratic Position
— "Incidental Protection" Ridiculed —
A Deadly Blow at Farmers — Opposed to
Free Raw Materials.

XX. The Dingley Tariff . . 252

A Member of the Finance Committee — A
Controlling Factor in Tariff Legislation —
Attitude toward the Reciprocity Clauses —
A Strong Advocate of Administration

XXI. Free Cuba 260

Opposed to Recognition of Belligerency —
Tries to Prevent War — Pleads for Modera-
tion — A Pillar of Conservatism — A Strong
Aid to the Administration — Growth of
the War Sentiment — Destruction of the
Maine — The President's Message — Adop-
tion of Resolutions for Intervention —
In a Small Minority — Hostilities Precipi-

XXII. Expansion and Imperialism . . 284

For Unrelenting Prosecution of the War
— Results of the War Accepted — Annexa-
tion of Hawaii — Urges Retention of Philip-
pines — Letter to President McKinley —
Letter to Professor Fisher — Strongly Ad-
vocates Ratification of Treaty of Peace —
Speech of December 19, 1899 — The Con-
stitutional Right of the United States to
Acquire and Govern Territory.













National Duty .... 303

Debate with Senator Hoar, February 11,
1902 — The Destiny of the Republic —
Favors a Colonial System.

On Guard OVER Cuba . . 3^^

New Problems — Chairman of Committee on
Cuban Relations — Opposed to Annexa-
tion — The Question of Sovereignty —
Visit to Cuba, 1900 — The Cuban Scandal
— Extra Allowances.

Cuban Scandals and Allowances . 324

Investigation Authorized — Speech of May
23, 1900 — Longing for Home — Corre-
spondence with General Wood.

The Platt Amendment . . . 336

Establishing a New Republic— Conferences
of Cuban Committee — The Question of

The Porto-Rican Tariff . . 357

Our "Plain Duty" toward Porto Rico-
Organizes Opposition to Free Trade with
the Island— A Successful Parliamentary
Campaign — Letter to Lyman Abbott.

Reciprocity with Cuba .

Bulwark of the Administration — Leader
of Long Struggle in Congress— Opposi-
tion at Home — Ratification of Treaty.

Against Tariff Revision .

Opposed to Tariff Tinkering

Letter to President
Dingley Law.

m 1905 —
Roosevelt — Saves



Antiquated Senate Ways . . 395

The Rules of the Senate— Advocates Open
Executive Sessions— Speech of April 13,
1886 — Proposes Limitation of Debate.










Dignity of the Senate .

"Legislation by Unanimous Consent "-





Senate not Decadent — Not a Rich Man's
Club — Opposes Seating of Quay — The
Tillman-McLaurin Episode.

Labor and Capital ....

An Unbiassed Judge — Opposed to Radical
Measures — A Friend of the Workingman
— Defeats Anti-Injunction and Eight-
Hour Bills — Supports President Roosevelt
in Coal Strike and Northern Securi-
ties Case^Address before Workingmen's
Club at Hartford — Opposition to Anti-
Option Bill — Speech of January 17-19,

Regulation of Corporations .

Favors Reasonable Control — Opposes Sher-
man Anti-Trust Bill — In Sympathy with
Roosevelt's Plans — Against Littlefield
Bill in 1902 — Opposes Income and Cor-
poration Tax.

The Interstate Commerce Law

The Initiatory Legislation of 1887— Op-
poses Anti-Pooling Clause — Position Jus-
tified by Events — Favors Elkins Bill —
Opposed to Hasty Legislation in 1905 —
"Too Great a Subject to Play with."

A Robust American

Sturdily Assertive in International Affairs —
The United States a World Power — Sus-
tains Cleveland's Venezuelan Message —
Arbitration with Great Britain — The
Hague Treaties.

The Panama Affair . . . 483

Always for the Canal — A New Republic on
the Isthmus — Defender of the Adminis-
tration — Speech of January 20-21, 1904 —
The "Yale Protest."







Relations with the White House .

Dealings with Many Administrations —
The River and Harbor Bill — Marshall
Jewell and Garfield — Hawley's Candidacy
in 1884 — A Critic of Cleveland — Sup-
porter of Harrison.








Mr. Piatt's Course in 1896 — Later a Friend
of McKinley and Hanna — Hawley for
the Cabinet.

Roosevelt .....

A Loyal Supporter of Roosevelt — Urges
Nomination in 1904 — Appeals to Busi-
ness Interests — For Moderation in 1905.

Politics and Patronage .

A Stranger to Political Manipulation—
noyed by Office Seekers — Zealous


Connecticut's First Citizen

Successive Elections to Senate without Op-
position — Lack of Personal Organization
— Offer of Position as Chief-Justice of
Supreme Court of Errors — Rejects Sug-
gestion of Selection as President pro tern.

The Fessenden Episode .

An Evanescent Disturbance — Proposed for
Vice-President— Refuses to Make a Per-
sonal Canvass for Re-election — Election
in 1897 — Political Expenditures.

A State's Crowning Tribute .

Election in 1903— Address to Legislature— A
Senator's Duty— Reception by the State
at Hartford.

Fruitful Years ....

The Last Phase— Ratification of Colombian
Treaty — The Adirondacks — Special Ses-

















sion of 1903 — Pension Order 78 — Post-
Office Scandals — Death of Mark Hanna —
Nomination and Election of Roosevelt,

The Last Session ....

Chairman of Judiciary Committee — The
Swayne Impeachment — A Day's Doings
— Legislation of Last Session — Opposes
Heyburn Pure Food Law.

The End

A President's Letter — Funeral of General
Hawley — Address at Hartford — Death
and Burial.

An Old-Fashioned Senator

The Lincoln of New England — Personal
Traits — Mental Habit — Religious Tenden-
cies — A Lover of Old Ways — Lofty Ideals.

Words Fitly Spoken

Tributes by his Associates in Public Life —
Eulogies in the Senate — Senator Lodge's
Estimate of his Character.






Memorial Resolutions adopted by the Con-
necticut General Assembly at the January
Session Nineteen Hundred and Five.

Message of Governor Roberts announcing to
the general Assembly the death of Mr.

Memorials in Bronze.

The Piatt National Park.

The Judgment of the Press.










Orville H. Platt . . * . Frontispiece

From a photograph by Parker, Washington, D. C.

The Boyhood Home of Orville H. Platt at
Washington, Conn.

Washington Green and the Congregational
Church .....





Orville H. Platt, Aged 18

From a daguerreotype taken in 1845

A Washington Trout Brook

The Home in Meriden, Conn.

A Fly-casting Rapid of the Shepaug River

On the Way to Steep Rock

In Conference at Warwick

Senators Platt, Spooner, Allison, and Aldrich

From a photograph by Edgar H. Horton & Co., Provi-
dence, R. I.

Facsimile of Letter to President McKinley

Concerning the Philippine Islands . . 288

KiRBY Corner, Washington, Conn. . . .326

Orville H. Platt 486

From a photograph by Prince, Washington, D. C.


^vi Illustrations


The Last Camp in the Adirondacks, 1904, at

Long Lake ...... 564

In the Village Cemetery ..... 584

The Memorial Tablet to Orville H. Platt
Placed by E. H. Van Ingen, Esq., in the
Gunn Memorial Library, Washington, Conn. 590
A. Bertram Pegram, Sculptor

OrviUe H. Piatt

Orville H. Piatt



Birth and Ancestry — The Litchfield Hills — Early Days in Judea —

Abolition and Religious Dissent — The Underground Railroad —

Boyhood on the Farm.

little town of Washington, Litchfield County,
Connecticut, July 19, 1827. His father was Daniel
Gould Piatt ; his mother, Almyra Hitchcock Piatt. He
was fortunate in his inheritance, in the time and place
of his birth, and in the surroundings of his early years.
Through both father and mother he was descended
from long lines of New England farmers, who, genera-
tion after generation, had stood for something in the
communities in which they lived. From father to
son they held office in the church and in the town.
They were landowners, deacons, tithing-men, and
captains of militia. One ancestor was imprisoned by
Governor Andros in 168 1 for daring to attend a meeting
of delegates "to devise means to obtain a redress of
grievances under his arbitrary rule." Another was
among those who marched to Fishkill in the Burgoyne

2 Orville H. Piatt

campaign of October, 1777, to reinforce General Put-
nam. Orville Piatt's grandfather, John, was also a
soldier in the Revolution and belonged to the band of
"Prison Ship Martyrs." His own father was deputy
sheriff and judge of probate, a school-teacher at times,
as well as a tiller of the soil. It was a sturdy, loyal,
patriotic, efficient New England stock. 1

For a boy to have been born in Litchfield County in

« The Platt Genealogy: The Piatt family was established in
New Haven County, in 1638, when (I) Richard Platt, an Eng-
lishman, and his wife Mary, with their four children, landed at New
Haven. He was one of the sixty -one who formed a church society,
August 22, 1639, and proceeded at once to settle at Milford. Of
his eight children, the third, (and second son,) (II) Isaac, was en-
rolled in 1666 among the fifty-seven landowners of Huntington,
Long Island, where he had probably lived some years. He was
recorded there in 1687. In Milford, he married Phoebe Smith,
March 12, 1640, and, more than twenty years later, he married at
Huntington, Elizabeth, daughter of Jonas Wood. He was captain
of militia, and held every office of consequence in the town, where
he died July 31, 1691.

He had six children; the eldest son and second child, (III)
Jonas, bom August 16, 1667, married Sarah Scudder, and had
four sons: (IV) Obadiah, the eldest of these, purchased lands in
Fairfield in 1724. He married Mary Smith, August 10, 1722, and
had eight children. The wife and mother died November 16, 1771,
at Ridgefield. (V) Jonas, their second son and third child, bom
October 9, 1727, settled at Redding, where he was married, October
17, 1747, to Elizabeth, daughter of Ephraim Sanford of that place.
Both were admitted church members at Redding, July 5, 1749-
They had ten children, of whom the eldest, (VI) John, was baptized
February 5, 1752, at Redding. Both father and son served as
soldiers in the Revolutionary Army, and the former was made
prisoner in the Danbury raid in April, 1777, but appeared among
those who marched to Fishkill in the following October, to reinforce
General Putnam. The son was taken prisoner at Fort Lee, Novem-
ber 16, 1776. He married Elizabeth Parmelee July 7, 1775, and
settled' after the war in the town of Washington, Connecticut.
Their children were: John, bom Febmary 21, 1776; David, bora
August 31, 1778; Ruth Ann, March 31, 1782; Betsy, May 8, 1790;
Daniel Gould, July 25, 1797.

Judea 3

the early days of the last century was to have been
placed in the pathway of opportunity. Nature has
been gracious to the region round about. Lying at the
southernmost spur of the Berkshires, villages perched
on the brows of many hills look out over the winding
valleys of the Housatonic and Shepaug. The town of
Litchfield is one of the historic places of America, rich
in memories of famous men and happenings. It was
the seat of the earliest law school in America, and the
home either temporary or permanent of many who
were eminent at the bar or in the pulpit. Lyman
Beecher preached there for years; Henry Ward Beecher
and Harriet Beecher Stowe were born there. It was
the home of Oliver Wolcott and the birthplace of
Ethan Allen. It had been the home of Colonel Tal-
madge, an aide on General Washington's staff. Aaron
Burr lived there for a year as a young man. Horace
Bushnell, whose name is honored throughout the
world, was born in Litchfield and spent his youth at
New Preston, near-by. Many others might be named
whose fame lends interest and character to the charm-
ing town. In the early years of the last century, the

(VII) Daniel Gould Platt, married Almyra Hitchcock, Jan-
uary 3, 1 817, and they had children: Orville, bom March 11, 1822,
who died in 1826; Orville Hitchcock, born July 19, 1827, in
"Washington; and Simeon D., bom February 12, 1832. The father
died October 26, 1871.


Richard Platt, New Haven, Connecticut.

Isaac, Huntington, Long Island.


Obadiah, Fairfield and Redding.

Jonas, Redding.

John, Redding and Washington.

Daniel Gould, Washington, Connecticut.

Orville Hitchcock, Washington.

4 Orville H. Piatt

place was at its best, and Orville Piatt, born and bred
twelve miles to the south in the equally beautiful
village of Washington, could hardly have avoided
absorbing some of the inspiration of the environment.
Within a radius of fifteen miles of his birthplace, were
two other towns of Litchfield County rich in associa-
tions. At New Milford to the south, Roger Sherman
lived for twenty years. At Torrington, an equal
distance to the north, John Brown was born.

The town of Washington in its own right could claim
distinction. It was organized during the throes of the
struggle for independence by uniting two ancient
Ecclesiastical Societies, and it is said to have been the
first community in America to adopt the name of the
Father of his Country. The older of these societies,
comprising the village of Judea, lay on a level plateau
overlooking the valley through which the Shepaug
goes tumbling down to meet the Housatonic. Four
miles away, on the other side of a high hill, were the
villages of Marbledale and New Preston, which com-
prised the other Ecclesiastical Society. It was in the
village of Judea that Orville H. Piatt was born, — a
community puritan and conservative to the roots.
New Preston, on the other hand, had always been known
as the home of religious and political dissent. It was
the youthful Piatt's good fortune to develop into man-
hood at a time when that part of New England, like
many others, was in the midst of a moral revolution.
The year in which he was born, 1827, was the year in
which William Lloyd Garrison became the editor of the
National Philanthropist. Four years later, Garrison
established The Liberator. The ancient community of
Washington offered fertile soil in which to sow the
Abolition seed, and Daniel Gould Piatt was one of

Judea 5

those who received the seed gladly. In 1837, shortly
after the martyrdom of Love joy, an Abolition conven-
tion met at Hartford, and Daniel Piatt attended it with
his wife. There were four others in attendance from
Judea— Mr. and Mrs. John Gunn, and Mr. and Mrs.
Lewis A. Canfield — representatives of a family which
was to count for much in Orville Piatt's life. From
that time, for many years, this faithful group were the
centre of a storm of persecution by which less heroic
souls would have been overwhelmed. The pastor of the
Judea church was Reverend Gordon Hayes, an able
and bigoted theologian. Abolitionism he regarded as a
heresy and he set about to stamp it out. He devoted
sermon after sermon to attacks upon the strange doc-
trine, denouncing it in the name of patriotism and
religion. He found sanction for slavery in the Bible,
and he was as honest as he was earnest in his attacks
upon those who sought to bring it to an end. The
Abolitionists were equally intense. They held meet-
ings in which their speakers cried out against slavery as
a sin and forswore communion with slaveholders as
collusion with sin. Finally an extraordinary episode
brought on the crisis with a rush. Miss Abby Kelly
in 1839 was known far and wide as an Abolition speaker.
In August of that year she was preaching the New
Evangel throughout western Connecticut, and Daniel
Piatt and Lewis Canfield with their wives drove to a
neighboring town and brought her to Washington,
where she remained for a fortnight, appearing at
numerous Abolition meetings. For women to speak
in public was in those days an almost unheard of thing,
and for one to enter actively into the discussion of
political affairs was revolutionary and abhorrent.
Parson Hayes and his conservative congregation were

6 Orville H. Piatt

shaken with wrath. The impudent challenge of the
AboHtionists was met with promptness and decision.
Under the date of August 8, 1839, there appears in the
records of the Judea church the following entry :

At a meeting of the church convened in consequence of a
notice of a meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society at which
it was said a female would lecture :

Resolved, That we are opposed to the introduction of
female public lecturers into this society by members of
this church, and to females giving such lectures in it.

This action was followed promptly by Mr. Hayes in
a sermon from the following plain-spoken text :

Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, be-
cause thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth her-
self a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to
commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.

And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and
she repented not.

Online LibraryLouis Arthur CoolidgeAn old-fashioned senator: Orville H. Platt, of Connecticut; the story of a life unselfishly devoted to the public service → online text (page 1 of 50)